From Small Advantage to Decisive

From Small Advantage to Decisive

| 14 | Endgames

Sometimes I wonder how does a slightly worse endgame position become much worse and then lost. The defending side may not make any blunders relying on a passive defense, but still it is not enough to pull the game from the void. What is the defining moment, which marks the end of slightly better and the beginning of much better? Typically, in endgames the defending side does not have a way to significantly improve their position. This is due to having pieces tied down defending weak squares. On the other hand the strong side has a plan that improves their position. Sometimes it is not enough for a win because the defending side can cover all the weaknesses and there is no way to break through. When the attacking side finds a way to break through it is usually the moment when a small advantage becomes decisive. Today’s games feature defining moments in endgames, where one side managed to find a plan that eventually should have led to a win.


Let us first recap the evaluation of the position. White is worse due to weak pawns on e4-e5 that not only are weak but also block the bishop on b2. Black is better but it would be hard to convert the advantage because of the doubled c-pawns and because of limited piece maneuverability. It is pretty hard to directly attack the weak e-pawns, so somehow black has to find a way around through the flank. What helps in evaluations is evaluating piece trades. Exchanging the knights benefits white because the black bishop will not be able to attack all the weaknesses. A bishop trade favors white too, as the bishop on b2 is a bad piece, however if black manages to get to the e- pawn then the trade can favor black. The only trade that white must avoid at all cost is the knight for black bishop. In this case the black knight will totally dominate the white bishop.

First, we will look at my training game, where I had black. The game features a bishop trade but because white had too many weaknesses the trade did not bring equality for white. Instead, black used the dark squares not covered by the bishop to position the knight there. In the end one mistake caused black to lose the advantage and the game ended in a draw.


The important ideas from the game:

  • One of the main plans for black is to take the knight and the bishop away from the e- file to free the e6 square for the king. The king attacks the e5- pawn and is ideally positioned there.
  • I did not want to play g6 because it cuts the possibility of Rh6-Rg6. However, it has more advantages to it for black, as the white knight will no longer be active and the rook can enter the game through the d8-square.
  • Black prepared everything to trade the bishop for the knight. White decided to trade the bishops, which is a good decision because the white bishop has no chances to fight the black knight.

We are familiar enough with the position to look at what happened in the real game. I like the game because it is hard to see the moment where black got the decisive advantage. As I look through it I ask what could white have done better? Allowing black to exchange his bishop for the white knight was one big concession. Then, white played well and consolidated until she had to take a decision where the king should be placed. On the one hand, the king needs to be at f4 defending the e5-pawn. On the other hand, the black passed pawns on the queenside are dangerous and need to be stopped. The weak e5-pawn is a doubled pawn and sooner or later black would capture it. Allowing black to get a passed pawn for free put white on the path to defeat.


The following ideas are important:

  • Notice how black did not rush to play Nd4 but prepared it with slow, small moves (Ke8) that generally improved black’s position.
  • White did not allow a rook trade that would result in the knight vs. bishop endgame, where any resulting pawn endgame is losing for white due to the doubled e-pawns.
  • It was important to sacrifice the e5-pawn but use the king to block the queenside passed pawn, which would free white rook’s hands to attack black pawns.

Next week I will show you the endgames from my recent practice and hopefully a few from the tournament I am currently playing in Toronto.

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